Saturday, October 15, 2016

"The Secret of Greylands" by Annie Haynes (A Short Review)

Published:  1924
Setting:  Historical

Back Cover Synopsis:

“There’s no dirty trick he wouldn’t play—it’s my belief that he wouldn’t even stop at murder!”Her husband unmasked as a scoundrel, Lady Cynthia Letchingham seeks refuge at her cousin Hannah’s north-country home Greylands. But on Cynthia’s arrival, she finds Hannah an invalid, having recently suffered a mysterious paralysis; the house is devoid of servants, and Hannah’s husband, charming and sinister by turns, keeps watch over everything and everyone. Only the presence of charming Sybil Hammond and a darkly handsome neighbour relieve the atmosphere for Cynthia - but then a dark red stain appears mysteriously on the sleeve of her coat…

What has really happened to Hannah, and the other entangled mysteries along the way, make The Secret of Greylands (1924) an absorbing golden age crime novel matching Wilkie Collins’ high Victorian gothic to the agility of early jazz age fiction. This new edition, the first in over eighty years, features an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

“Not only a crime story of merit, but also a novel which will interest readers to whom mystery for its own sake has little appeal.” Nation

“Full of thrills and unexpected developments.” Star

“A most skilfully written detective story and the mystery is carried through quite brilliantly.” Clarion

“A capital story— highly ingenious.” Truth

I have read some pretty atrocious reviews on this book...particularly that it's hard to read.  Another complaint was boredom, or lack of mystery.  I, however, found this book quite addictive.  I was hooked from the beginning, particularly from the description of the dark and brooding moors.  Maybe I am biased, for the 'mansion on the moors' story is always compelling for me, particularly from a gothic romance/suspense point of view.

I loved the language in this book.  I think because it was truly written back in the post-Victorian age (with language from that era in tact), I was really able to absorb myself in this bygone era.  An era of simplicity and of rolling hills and vacant moors and rambling old mansions where ghosts reside. 

What's more than the atmosphere is the mystery...where is cousin Hannah?  And, yes, after a bit you come to the conclusion of who the culprit is but as another reviewer stated, the broodingly dark atmosphere and the quest to see what becomes of the main character keeps you flipping the pages.

Just another example of why a bad review doesn't always mean a bad book.  I loved this one and though it's deemed a golden age crime mystery, it really reads more as a golden age gothic romance...yes, there's some romance involved as well!

Best Gothic Elements:  stolen identity, hidden identity, stolen inheritance, murder, dark and brooding mansion on the moors, imposters, heroine getting lost in the muddy moors near dusk, strange and conniving nurse maids, mysterious illness.

I have purchased several more of these golden age mysteries from the Amazon Kindle store.  Here's to hoping the rest are every bit as good as this one was.

My Rating

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"House at the Edge: A World of Gothic - Greece" by M.M. Jaye

Published:  2016
Setting:  Modern Day

...both my arms cartwheeled as a super strong shove between my shoulder blades sent me careening forward.  I stumbled onto my knees, using my hands to break my fall.  Sharp pain shot through my palms, as I'd slammed them on jagged rocks.

What on earth?

Before I had time to turn around, the door slammed shut, and the unmistakable sound of a deadbolt turning pierced the wind's howl.

I was locked out.

Darkness fell swiftly yet anything but silently.  The vicious wind whipped my hair, its low keening whistle torturing my ears.  Rain lashed my skin, my clothes quickly becoming a drenched straightjacket.  I'd been pounding at the door for what seemed like hours, but the continuous rumble of the thunder that echoed long after it had clapped drowned any noise my fist managed to produce...

Clutching my sides, I trotted down the steps and peered at the top floor windows, dragging my sopping hair out of the way with one hand.  Lightning slashed the sky, and that's when I saw it.  A fuzzy outline against a dimly lit backdrop, its head hidden behind a black cloak.

"Open the door,"  I yelled at the top of my lungs, but the violence of the storm swallowed my voice.  I scanned the ground for a stone.  There was one near the barrel.  I hurtled it toward the window.   I missed.  I couldn't spot more loose stones around me, only half-buried rocks.  Grasping a jagged edge, I pulled and pulled, but even though the ground was slushy, it wouldn't give.  Using my nails, I dug around the rock and freed it.  Tears of frustration mingled with the rain in my eyes.  It was too heavy.  I could barely lift it, let alone throw it far.

Exhausted, I lifted my eyes to the window high above me.  Rain pelted down on me, but I knew what I saw.

The cloaked figure shook its head.

Then the light went out, and the window turned into a black hole.


He wants her out of his house. The house agrees… 

After losing everything—her family, her home, her sense of self—former heiress, Daphne Alesi, has no choice but to start anew. Broke, unwanted, and suffering from a rare condition that makes defining her emotions mind-numbingly difficult, the only thing she has left is a strong will to survive.  

Starting over on a remote Greek island, in the dead of winter, just because it was her grandmother’s birthplace might be a foolish plan, but staying in England is not an option. 

The people of Alonissos are far from welcoming, not least the brooding recluse whose home she literally invades. The infamous House at the Edge is rumored to host a ghost—the soul of the enigmatic owner’s deceased wife. But it will take more than an angry spirit to send Daphne fleeing.  

Being emotionally detached has some benefits, after all.

I really enjoyed this novella.  I was especially endeared to the main character and her plight to escape to the country of her roots (Greece) after the very foundation (and support network) of her life seemingly crumbled.

Desperate to start over, and clutching at straws for a chance to support herself, she busies herself as the (unwanted) cook to the ruggedly handsome Petros.  Little does she know that Petros has his own ghosts to deal with (literally)....but when it comes to matters of the heart, she's willing to weather the storm for a final chance at happiness.

With ghosts, secrets, betrayals, paranormal elements....and romance....there's too much about this book to put down.  I think I read it in two sittings.

 It weighs in just at 112 pages, and I totally wish it had been longer but it was still an excellent modern gothic read.

I recommend to fellow gothic romance / paranormal romance / romantic suspense fans.

Best Gothic Elements:  murder, betrayal, ghosts, buried treasure, secret identities, secret passageways, a ghost cat.

I also noticed there were several more of these books with settings in locations form around the world.  I have purchased several and hope to review them soon.  I discovered them in the Kindle reads on amazon.

4 Stars

"The Whispering Runes" by Doris Shannon

Published:  1972
Setting:  Modern Day

As she walked up the driveway, she could hear the sound of his car receding in the distance.

Once it was gone, silence descended in a thick blanket, broken only by the wind moving in the trees over her head. Her tiny light cast a weak, wavering beam through the inky darkness. She wished she had a larger light. She also wished she'd worn low-heeled shoes. Picking her way along, she tried to avoid the larger rocks on the driveway. Then her heart gave a thud. Something rustled to her right, in the dense bushes that lined the driveway.

Her heart pounding, she stopped and flashed the light into the bushes. She could see nothing. Remembering the rabbit in the woods behind Arenel, she smiled. No doubt it was one of the small animal's relatives.

She walked on. The sound continued. It was paraleling in her course. No rabbit would do that. She quickened her step. Footsteps in the darkness beside her kept pace.

Don't panic, she told herself sternly. The she did. Breaking into a run, she headed up the driveway. Behind her she could heart her pursuer. Whoever it was had left the cover of the trees and was on the gravel.

She heard someone directly behind her. She strid to move. An axe came whistling down. It narrowly missed her arm. The blade landed only a few inches from her hand. With the strength of desperation she wrenched herself up and away from the cold steel.

No memory ever remained of the last few yards. One minute she was on the gravel. The next she was pounding on the white door.

It swung inward. A figure was silhouetted against the light. It was a man. She could feel warm liquid trickling down her legs. Vaguely she knew she was bleeding...

Front Cover Synopsis:

It seemed almost as if Death were stalking Sarah. Her writer-husband had been killed in an automobile accident in which she had been injured. Now, forced to forget and earn a living, she had come to Arenel to catalogue the library of Lady Marion, only to discover that her friend, too, had died suddenly since hirig her, and that there were those at Arenel who would have turned her from the door without qualm. Perhaps she should have left, but somehow a force stronger than their antagonism impelled her to force her way in and to meet the challenge they presented.

This is a Lenox Hill Press book, but the quick-mystery reading and the layout reminded me of the earlier Avalon gothic romances.

There's quite a mystery packed tightly into the short 192 pages of reading. It's a little formulaic but surprisingly that doesn't take away from this sordid tale.

You have the typical young girl, reeling from the loss of death and overcoming a head injury, who comes to a mysterious old mansion for a job...only to find madness, family secrets and peril awaiting her.

There's also quite a twisted family tree enmeshed between the gory details of one girls brush with death and murder.

Definitely an origial vintage gothic romance. Worth the read!

Best Gothic Elements: a real life ogre; twisted family relationships; stolen identity; switched identity; treasure-seeking; an inheritance at stake; murder by poisoning; dysfunctional family history unveiled; incestual relations.

4 Stars

"The Holiday Friend" by Pamela Hansford Johnson

Published:  1972
Setting:  Modern Day

Melissa dreamed that she was climbing a great crimson mast, up into the sky. She could see above her an octagonal lantern, like that of a lighthouse; her feet were bare on the glittering rigging. She as climbing; and hyet she ast in the square below, watching herself. It was perilous; she was afraid al the time that she might fall, but knew she must go on. To reach the lantern, to trip on to it to crawl inside it, where joy awaited her; she must do this. Her feet were bleeding; she saw her other self, quiet on the benches, watch the slow black drops of splash on to the cobbles. Her body ached; all her bones were strained to the ascent.

At last she came to the octagon, but it had diminished, to othing greater than a street lamp. He was small inside, but she could not go to him. She tried t peer through the smudged glass, to call to him, but could make no sound. Her hands, slipping in rain or blood, gave way; she fell, but slowly, cushioned by the air, srapped in its comfort. Soon, like a parachutist, she was feel the comfort cease and would rush down on to the stones. She tried, as she fell, to catch at the rigging; it eluded her. The crowd was rushing up at her, faster and faster, white faces like so many expanding moons.

She awoke, sweating and trembling, sat up in bed to shake off the dream. The curtains were only half-drawn, and the moonlight shafted in. Where was the mast, where were the crowds upon the cobble-stones, greedy for her to fall? She was not yet fully awake...

Inside Cover Synopsis:

This story of a fateful holiday begins quietly at a Belgian seaside village, which Pamela Hansford Johnson beautifully evokes. Gavin and Hannah Eastwood are vacationing there, with their 12-year-old son. But Eastwood has been followed to Belgium by one of his students who ahs fallen in love with him – a girl living in a romantic fantasy. Her presense sets up a tension which increases as Miss Hansford Johnson carries her story forward with wit and acute perception. While the Eastwoods try to cope with an obsession, their small son secretly pursues his own sinister holiday friendship. The vacation which began so peacefully explodes in a shocking climax.

Although this story was labeled in the genre of Gothic Romance at the local library, I think it's more of a thriller/mystery selection.

Nonetheless, it has some great gothic romance elements that make for eager, suspenseful reading.

The book rotates from the three different viewpoints, so you really have three separate stories wrapped into one. First there is the young, obsessive Melissa Hirst. Poor, without any family to speak of and in love with an Art History professor who does not know she exists. Melissa even follows him on holiday, obsessively pursues a forced friendship with the professor and his wife, forges relations with their young son whilst making a nuisense of herself.

The viewpoint then changes to the Eastwoods and their personal reaction to the increasingly-pervasive Melissa and her unhealthy, fantasy-based notions that she if she pursues and loves hard enough, Gavin Eastwood will eventaully fall in love with her. And, although her redirects the girl and misleads her several times, in secret, the Eastwoods do not care for the poor girl at all.

Then there is Gavin, the 12-year-old son for which the Eastwoods love full-heartedly, yet cannot ever seen to be satisfied with the child. They feel he lacks in growth and development, they worry over the finances of his schooling as well as his failure to thrive in a schooling environment. They also desperately seek time away from the child for their own selfish passions, thus allowing leeway for the child to get involved in his own sinister dealings with an older foreign boy.

Back and forth you go, the push and pull effects of Mellissa and the Eastwoods. The galvanizing, zany characters of two other families who are also vacationing at the inn. The bizzarre holiday atmosphere and the celebratory comings and goings of circus acts and fairs, both brilliant yet with dark undertones that keep the reader hooked from chapter to chapter, almost in 'need' to know what happens next.

I loved this book. It's eloquently written and beatifully detailed. I almost felt as if I were watching from behind a crack in the door as Melissa made a mockery of her childish crush time and again whilst putting undue stress on the Eastwoods right up until the final, deadly grand finale.

Best Gothic Elements: romantic obsession, murder, mysterious friendships forged during foreign travel, murder.

4 Stars

"Shadows Waiting" by Anne Eliot

Published:  1969
Setting:  Modern Day

There could be no blackness blacker than what I faced. I looked wildly around. There was no escape anywhere from the all-enveloping depths of night. Whatever I did, wherever I moved, I was surrounded by blackness. But I could not retreat now. I stopped and felt below the gaping hole and found the lintel, a row of stones a foot high. I stepped over it and was inside- something. I moved a pace forward and stopped. Behind me there came a chuckle, just a host of a please chuckle and a ghost of a thud. I put my hand behind me. I must get out. My hand found only rough stone. The wall had closed behind me.

I panicked. I threw myself against it and beat with my hands and called to the unknown to let me out. I tried entreaties, and stopped at last, breathless. It was another joke, of course, by someone. Soon someone would come and open that stone wall. I would have to be patient. Gasping, I leaned against the wall and waited. Nothing happened except that my breathing became more quiet. My palm stung as if I had scraped it. Perhaps, for some reason, I would have to wait a few minutes. Then, at least, I thought, I should see where I was, and why.

Almost reluctantly I puled out the flashlight and switched it on. And screamd again. “The night has a thousand eyes,” I babbled.

Across the space they leaped at me, rows and clusters and pinpoints of light, unwinking, malevolent pinpoints, watching me...

Inside Cover Synopsis:

The Chateau of Laurais looked stately yet welcoming in the clear moonlight as Jenny Warren approached it in her little car one evening in June. She knew that the romantic building held many treasures and secrets; secrets she was determined to penetrate, if only because it would pelase her beloved Oliver, back in Boston.

Sent to France on an ample budget by the terms of her aunt's will, Jenny had decided she would go to stay at Laurais, meet the young owner, and catalog for herself the fine porcelains and other art objects he had been sending to Oliver to be sold in America. Within a few days she realized that her role in the chateau was more than that. She had been shot at in the woods, her room had been searched, and she had been warned to leave Laurais or face the consequences.

Who was her enemy? Was it Dr. Collomore, the saturnine art expert, the blon German Valkyrie who was her fellow guest, her hadsome host, or his difficult lawyer friend who wanted to sell the whole collection at auction? Where was the priceless Book of Hours, the real object of her quest?

Suspense mounts as Jenny finds herself embroidered in an intrigue of deception, danger, and romance.

True to the original elements of a true gothic romance novel, this is one of the best I have read in quite a while!

Fueled by unrequited love, Jenny partakes upon herself the responsibility of traveling to a foreign country in search of a lost treasure that will bring her true love, imbittered by a disability, enough fortune to buy his own happiness. Although she goes in search of a historical relic work millions, the ancient Book of Hours, she finds herself doing more treasure-hunting which inadvertently pulls her into a dangerous game of old betrayals of war, murder, and stolen treasure.

As bodies start dropping around her, Jenny must keep her wits...or ultimately she'll die.

I'd recommend this read to any gothic romance fan. It's also a great traveling adventure for those who enjoy a good store about one who vacations abroad.

Best Gothic Elements: This novel contains everything that creates a true, compelling gothic romance read: a girl with no family inherits her aunt's riches, under stipulation of a will she travels to a foreign country; unrequited love that sends her into a journey straight from her nightmares. Hidden treasure, murder, historical espionage and bitter familial feuds and betrayal. A bit of a history lesson even lies between the sordid details of Jenny's nightmarish voyage.

5 Stars

"Secrets in the Attic" by V.C. Andrews

Published:  2007
Setting:  Modern Day


Across the school parking lot, I saw my mother standing by her car. She beckoned and I started toward her quickly.

What's going on?” I said.

Get into the car,” she said.


Just get in, I'll take you home,” she said.

I got in and almost before I closed my door, she was backing out of the parking spot. She took a deep breath and looked at me.

You haven't heard the news?” she asked.

What news?”

Harry Pearson is dead,” she told me, and then to be sure I understood, she added, “Karen's stepfather is dead.”

I felt the blood drain from my face.

What do you mean, Mama? When did he die? How did he die?”

She started to cry and had to slow down and pull the car to the side of the road.


It looks like Karen did it, honey. It looks that way. She's run off.”

I actually tried to speak but couldn't. My throat had closed up.

Back Cover Synopsis:


In the dust and shadows of the attic, they shared everything – fanciful stories, high school crushes, plans for the future, dreams to travel the world. For Karen, the attic is her escape from the reality of her stepfather's unwanted attention. Together in the eaves of a house with its own murderous history, the best friends concoct a scheme that will put Karen's stepfather in his place. It wasn't supposed to turn deadly. But in the attic Karen shares one more secret with her best friend – a secret to take to the grave...

In comparison to Flowers in the Attic (written by the original V.C. Andrews), I'd have to call this story 'generic.' Unlike the earlier series where the story refers to the deeply-rooted pathos of it's characters and a past that unwinds as mysterious as the sordid present, this novel felt flat.

It actually seemed like most of the book just fleshed out odd details to fill more pages. For example, how many times do you need to read about Zipporah's horrible, boring days at school? After a bit, these details become redundant. It seems that this book is filled with the same details over and over, rather than digging into family secrets. Everything seems so surface, not at all the feel of my regular V.C.A. Reading.

The storyline and idea were terrific...the idea of two girls losing their sense of reality in an old attic, playing pretend. Everything is so fairytale until someone dies.....yet it becomes boring rather than the type of page-turning story that reels you in and won't let go.

I also had a really hard time commiserating with either of the main characters, Karen or Zipporah. They both seemed like spoiled brats. There was no adversity with either of these girls. No humiliating past, no previous suffering. And the character of neither was really excavated. Just two girls who had perfect lives, who chose to ostracize themselves from the rest of their highschool class, who prefered fantasy over reality and thus one girl allowed that fantasy to overpower reason.

I usually enjoy my V.C Andrews reads. Given, I'm not saying I didn't like this book. It's a fair read, I've just read better from her series.

If you're a fan, give it a go. Just don't expect it to be anything like Flowers in the Attic just because it shares the 'attic' bit.

Best Gothic Details: two girls who hide out in an attic and play pretend to forget the troubles of the world, a dusty attic with relics from the past, playing dress up in the old clothes and trunks in the attic, murder, a character so mad with mourning that he dresses up a manequin to act as his dead mother, odd incestual relations (this is most any V.C.A. Book, really).

3 Stars